Join the Think Like a Freak Book Club — and Win an Autographed Copy!

Our new book, Think Like a Freak, has just been published and we’d like to talk about it with you. So we are forming the Think Like a Freak Book Club.

How does it work? You write in your questions/comments/complaints in the comments section below and we’ll respond to some of them in our podcast. For now, we’re planning to do three episodes of the Book Club. (But if you know us even a little bit, you know we won’t be afraid to quit after one if it doesn’t work out!) Since there are nine chapters in the book, let’s start with  questions that pertain to Chapter 1, 2, and 3 of Think. Those are: “What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?,” “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language,” and “What’s Your Problem?”

If we choose your question for the podcast, we’ll send you a signed copy of Think Like a Freak or a limited edition Think Like a Freak t-shirt. Thanks!

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You can also pick an item from our swag page, or opt for a Freakonomics Radio t-shirt.


Here’s the TOC for Chapters 1, 2, and 3:

1. What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?

An endless supply of fascinating questions . . . The pros and cons of breast-feeding, fracking, and virtual currencies . . . There is no magic Freakonomics tool . . . Easy problems evaporate; it is
the hard ones that linger . . . How to win the World Cup . . . Private benefits vs. the greater
good . . . Thinking with a different set of muscles . . . Are married people happy or do happy people marry? . . . Get famous by thinking just once or twice a week . . . Our disastrous meeting with the future prime minister.

2. The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

Why is “I don’t know” so hard to say? . . . Sure, kids make up answers but why do we? . . . Who believes in the devil? . . . And who believes 9/11 was an inside job? . . . “Entrepreneurs of error” . . . Why measuring cause-and-effect is so hard . . . The folly of prediction . . . Are your predictions better than a dart-throwing chimp? . . . The Internet’s economic impact will be “no greater than the fax machine’s” . . . “Ultracrepidarianism” . . . The cost of pretending to know more than you
do . . . How should bad predictions be punished? . . . The Romanian witch hunt . . . The first step in solving problems: put away your moral compass . . . Why suicide rises with quality of life— and how little we know about suicide . . . Feedback is the key to all learning . . . How bad were the first loaves of bread? . . . Don’t leave experimentation to the scientists . . . Does more expensive wine taste better?

3. What’s Your Problem?

If you ask the wrong question, you’ll surely get the wrong answer . . . What does “school reform” really mean? . . . Why do American kids know less than kids from Estonia? . . . Maybe it’s the parents’ fault! . . . The amazing true story of Takeru Kobayashi, hot-dog-eating champion . . . Fifty hot dogs in twelve minutes! . . . So how did he do it? . . . And why was he so much better than everyone else? . . . “To eat quickly is not very good manners” . . . “The Solomon Method” . . . Endless experimentation in pursuit of excellence . . . Arrested! . . . How to redefine the problem you are trying to solve . . . The brain is the critical organ . . . How to ignore artificial barriers . . . Can you do 20 push-ups?

Misty Boring

I am a female and my bias is that females are constantly waiting to use restrooms in public places. I feel that our wait time is significantly higher then men wait. Is there any info or studies to this?

Mehdi G

Chpt. 2 - "Why is 'I don't know?' so hard to say?":

Beyond anything, I believe, avoiding the words "I don't know?" is similar to our distaste for using "uh" and "umm" when our mind isn't coherently processing. In our work-place, and ultimately our social roles, do we ever want to look like we've dropped the ball? No, of course not. So we think not knowing something is, in fact, detrimental to us. When at the same time, we may say "I don't know" we may be saying it as a first-to-the-tongue phrase, like "uh" or "umm", because we haven't given the thought in question enough time to process through our minds.

So what is it truly about 'I don't know?' is so hard to say? Sheesh, I don't know.

Although, like everyone... I can speculate.


You've written a book about how to "think like a freak", so presumably you have a good idea of how it is done. However, knowing how to do it is not the same as actually doing it. What sorts of freak-like thinking do you find especially challenging to apply?

Bill K

I read with fascination the "Traponomics" of the brown M&M's. I have been pondering how to apply this principle to the notoriously information assymetric transaction of purchasing a used car and other transactions that involve the seller to disclose to his/her detriment.

Sandra Henderson

Why aren't your books required reading at high schools? I happy teach the virtues of the volta and cacophony within my classes, but isn't your brand of economics more relevant?

Sandra Henderson

Argh! just saw my typo. Please forgive me!


Why aren’t your books required reading at all high schools? I happily teach the virtues of the volta and cacophony within my classes, but isn’t your brand of economics more relevant?

Michael Chang

With various case studies and examples outlined to examine what it means to think like a freak... How can one apply the idea of thinking out of the box in real life? To think like a freak (as David Lee Roth and King Solomon did) in real life scenarios relevant to every day life?


With all the advanced "Super Doppler" equipment we hear about, how is it that the weatherman/meteorologist can't predict our weather any better than a dart - throwing chimp??

Kay G

I'm based in England, and so I read the excerpt "How to win the World Cup" with keen interest!

I completely agree with the rationale that a striker should aim straight for the middle of the goal, however I think the psyche of the goalkeeper has been somewhat overlooked.

The average goalkeeper in the British Premier League is 6'2 and the average goal is 8ft high and just over 24ft wide.
By leaping in one direction or the other the goalkeeper can block a much greater proportion of the goal width than by standing in the center (I assume width is more important than height here as few penalties are scored below the height of the keeper's knee.)
This suggests that, even if penalty-takers make more of a habit of shooting dead center, the goalkeeper would be foolish to stand still and defend only such a narrow vertical strip.

Additionally, the average member of the public might sympathize with a goalie who dives the wrong way-- not because we're all risk takers, but because any idiot can stand still!

This suggests that, even if all strikers start aiming for the center, goalkeepers are unlikely to take the bait.
Additionally, by increasing a keeper's choices by 50% many might be overloaded into making the wrong decision.

So aim center boys! The country might hate you for it but real freaks will understand.


Amy M.

Do mutual fund investors really do any better than the market most of the time, and if not, why are we constantly encouraged to entrust our money with them? In some 401k plans including mine, mutual funds are the only options!


Hi guys. I'm a corrections deputy in Northern California. I've been in jail for the past 12 years. I was raised by an artist, a surfer and a musician, so needless to say, I'm already considered a freak by my peers. I often wonder what it would take to reduce recidivism in my county jail. I've thought about post release support, making jail food taste more plain, changing the television to c-span, making the inmates work harder, more inmate classrooms to teach life skills.....Any thoughts, research?

Joseph Goodknight

Question for Levitt: I imagine as a professor you have grad students working for you. What do your grad students think about the books and podcast? Do any of them come to study under you because of the books? Will they be getting free copies of the new book? ;)


Chapter 1:
* To what degree should we trust how happy people *say* they are? In economic terms, what data do we have on single vs. married individuals' revealed preferences vs. expressed preferences?

Chapter 2:
* What sorts of socities have had a good track record of noticing and punishing poor predictions? What have allowed them to do this? It could be any society, from countries, to towns, to a university economics department.

Chapter 3:
* What would a test need to look like to really measure critical thinking?
* How can we compare reading scores from tests in different languages?

Siu Fong

What are the most effective ways to release ones inner freak?

Ben Thomas

Does the incredible amount of money that schools spend on sometimes frivolous things. (for hexample my school in rural Indiana is planning on buying a 50,000$ greenhouse. We have barely 1000 students) Do expenditures like these often do what they are supposed to? Do student gains in profit over there lifetime due to these things really add that much value to the economy through that student?


I am from Colorado and fully supported legalizing marijuana although I advocate against its recreational use. Is there evidence from countries where it has been legal for awhile to show any correlations between acceptance of THC and things like crime, education, or workplace productivity?

Jason Hardaway

Pertaining to the first chapter my question is simply, how do you ask good questions. My professors remind me often that good questions lead to far more insight than decent answers and yet there are no lectures on how to ask good questions, so I thought I'd ask.

Thanks, -Jason

Steve Cebalt

Can "Freaky Thinking" be used broadly as a guiding principle in a corporation or other large institution? The workplace is filled with training programs on "Disruptive Innovation," "The Disney Model," and other programmatic attempts to imbue creative thinking in a workforce. It seems to me that these programs help creative people get more creative, but they do little for others. Could "thinking like a freak" be injected into the culture of a large workforce?

I think most people can learn to think like a freak if they are already inclined to do so and seek out your book(s). But could it be effective on a broad scale in large workforces that include people who do not already embrace "freaky" principles and capacities?

Joshua Hudson

I spent 20 years in the Navy, and one things that was drilled into you was to never say "I don't know." But at the same time, the only acceptable response for not knowing an answer was "I will find out." I have taken that with me my entire life and I require that from all the people that work with and for me. It is always OK to NOT know the answer, but "I don't know" is a statement that tells others that you are incapable to solve their questions or problems. "I will find out" lets clients, customers and coworkers know that you may not have the answer at this time but now that question has now become a request to get that answer.
This is a culture change that needs to happen. The fear of failing, making mistakes and "not knowing" exists because we live in a business culture of blame and punishment for not being perfect. When I was in the military, it was a culture of continual learning, development, and problem solving. There is so much to do, know and provide-- it is impossible to think that every member could be expert in it all. We expect 18 year olds to make mistakes. We do not expect them to make the mistakes twice. We expect to experiment with innovation, because "that is the way we have always done it" is unacceptable.
Every business I work with that adopts this "I will find out" model that I have worked with-- has been very succesfful in the work place in retention and productivity.


Stu M

I really loved both of your books, I didn't really know anything about economics beforehand and now I'm an avid fan of Freakonomics and I realize I've always been a FREAK.

Your books have enhanced the frustration in me that I have always had when I notice a recurring problem or situation in society.

I have so many questions to answer, but sadly no access to the data nor the time to investigate further, and even if I did, I am not sure anyone would listen or be interested. I live in France and it is not my country of birth and I don't speak the language fluently enough to discuss or propose change, not that the French would want it.

I find myself asking questions, usually WHY? about my new home all of the time, as things seem strangely organised here, that said though I'm sure things are maybe only a little better in my homeland of England, sadly when I was there any questions I had went unanswered as well, as I was too occupied with work and much of my problem solving was put into that.

Having lived in two countries now, and having seen the differences between to cultures, this raises many more questions for me and frustrates me even more.

Here are just some of the questions that occupy my mind daily and my hypothesized, unproven causes ofr at least one of them.

Why is it that the commuter traffic is heavier ever Thursday in Lille than other days and is that the same in the rest of France and if so why?

My hypothosis - most of France takes time to get going on a Monday and so Monday morning is quiet, Tuesday is the first real day of work in France but also still at the beginning of the week so the French laid back approach means people do not rush to work either, though a little more than Monday. Wednesday there is no school in France so no school traffic and one parent doesn't work and stays home to look after the kids. Friday is almost the weekend so the week is almost over so no need to rush, plus you got the important stuff done on Thursday. Thursday, Thursday is the busiest day for commuter traffic and I think that is because, mentally people are now thinking "Oh merde it's Thursday, the weeks almost over and I haven't actually done anything so I should set of early", and they all do this at the same time. Sadly though they then just sit in traffic.

No hypothesis for these! -

2/ This relates to remotely to What does “school reform” really mean?
Is the French school system good?
Is it better than the English system?
French children are at school for more hours per day then English children, but do they have more or less class time during the week and should the days be shorter and is the education they receive better?
Which country in the world has the best system?

What is better for an economy, shops that open 7 to 5 or 10 to 8?
Should shops open on Sundays?

4/ This relates remotely to “To eat quickly is not very good manners”
What is the optimum time needed for lunch? 15mins for a sandwich, an hour or 2 hours?

What is better for an economy, a country that promotes and supports entrepreneurs or one that doesn't?
What is better for an economy, a country that reduces tax to support entrepreneurs or one that keeps them high to deter entrepreneurs?

Is the health system of the UK better in a practical way than that of France and America and is the UK system more protected from over prescribing and over charging as a result, and which system offers the best care to the most people.

Ok so that's enough for now I only really wanted to say, I am really looking forward to reading "Think Like a Freak", even though it's going to frustrate me that much more.

ps @Misty Boring - I would agree with you, I do not know if there is any research but for me this is due to the mens toilets having urinals which makes turnaround much faster and also that usually men do not stop to talk in the toilets, they will take care of business as it were and leave and then talk outside. It's not that women talk more, though i'm sure there's research to show that they do, it is, in my experience at least, that men do not like to talk in that environment, again making turn-around that much faster.